I'm not sure what the heck just happened, or why it happened or even how it happened. I mean, I know the details of how Mike Leach ended up as the head coach of the Washington State Cougars, but it's still difficult to process. Everything moved so fast it's been hard to take a step back and realize what just happened.
The last three days have been an emotional rollercoaster, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. The Paul Wulff watch lasted for just about three days before we had some kind of resolution and he was fired. Tuesday was tough in many ways, but necessary in others. Losing Wulff was the bottom of the rollercoaster ride.
Wulf was one of our own -- an alumnus who bleeds crimson -- but keeping Wulff was a significant gamble. If he struggled next year, the football program and athletic department would be stuck in a hole. Climbing out of the whole would be a massive task. We can opine all we want about next year being the year, and the Cougars being set up to go to a bowl game, but nobody knows. Buy it or not, keeping Wulff was akin to going all-in with him at the helm. It was a scary proposition.
Next year is crucial for the future of Washington State athletics. The stadium renovations are in progress now, and big plans remain for Martin Stadium, including an impressive football operations building in the end zone. There has to be butts in the seats, cash in the coffers and a donor base that's energized. Gambling on winning changing everything, and hoping the victories came, would've amounted to a leap of faith.
In addition to the renovations, the Pac-12 television contract kicks in next season. We can talk about the money the contract will bring to Washington State -- and that money made it possible for Bill Moos to hire Leach -- but the increased visibility is just as important. Washington State will be on television every week in one form or another. The number of eyes on the program will be higher than ever. With an exciting product on the field, Washington State can parlay those eyes into dollars and fans. The product has to match the exposure, as does the support in the stands.
Paul Wulff had to be fired. He was one of ours and in some ways the Cougars lost their innocence, but it had to happen. Faced with the decision to put all his eggs in one basket -- Wulff's -- or make a bold move that may have been a one-shot deal, Moos chose Leach. And from what we've seen on Wednesday, the choice of Leach brought the excitement -- the much needed excitement -- back to the fan-base.
Leach is an exciting hire with plenty of substance. He's the only head coach with significant BCS experience Washington State has hired. This is a new route for the Cougars; a different path that needed to be taken.
What do you want to be? It's a question you need to ask yourself when it comes to Washington State athletics. What do you want this athletic department to be? The down-home, family athletic department is nice, but this is a business. It's a big-money business, in fact. Continuing to ignore the realities of college athletics while maintaining a happy, perhaps innocent, view of the world is a recipe to get left behind.
The decision to terminate Paul Wulff was business. Yes, he was one of our own, and it does sting. But money talks and the apathy of the fan-base was readily apparent in attendance and support of the football team. Struggle long enough and the fans will hesitate to come back in droves, but make a splash hire and the energy will reemerge at the snap of a finger, as we saw on Wednesday.
"We've either got to run with the big dogs, or admit that we're a doormat. We can't wait and embrace mediocrity"
Hiring Leach was a big dog move. Shelling out $2.25 million a year for Leach and another $1.8 million for his assistants was a big dog move. Doing so right here and right now was a big dog move.
WSU could only follow its own vicious cycle for so long. The Cougars saw success on the field in the early 2000s and before, but never fully capitalized on it. WSU was still the down-home athletic department that did more with less. We made every dollar go miles, and fans prided themselves on it. Embrace that mentality long enough and it defines you. It's a small-time school of thought.
Think big, be big, aim for the stars. Moos is an athletic director with big plans; inspiring plans for anyone who's heard him talk. Leach is a part of those plans now, and Wednesday hire is a sign of the shift in mentality at Washington State. The doormat mentality and acceptance of mediocrity won't be tolerated. If Washington State can hire a coach with the pedigree of Leach, anything is possible.
It's a great day to be a Cougar.